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Black Lives Matter | A Community Invitation to Address Racism

Dear Yoga Alliance members,

Yoga Alliance and the Yoga Alliance Foundation wish to express our deepest condolences to the family and community of George Floyd, as well as the families and communities of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so very many others whose lives have been cut short due to police violence and racial terror. We stand with you.

Breath. We who practice and teach yoga understand breath, in a deep and intimate way. We know that breath is life-giving, that it is life-changing, and that it is shared, equally, among every living being on this earth. We know exactly what George Floyd’s last words, which echoed those of Eric Garner nearly six years before—“I can’t breathe”—meant, and exactly what was taken from him.

We speak of yoga as a “practice” intentionally, even in reference to the most senior, most learned teachers among us. In doing so, we acknowledge two important truths. The first of these demonstrates that, for all of us, there is no end to our life’s work of learning, and growing and transforming based on those learnings. The second, which can be hard to grapple with and see, is that the indicators and markers that we use to try to make sense of who we are ourselves, and who we are in relation to others, are nothing more than constructs that we create.

These constructs serve our own, deeply human, need to understand and define ourselves. In one way or another, the search for this understanding is what brought many of us to yoga. However, like most concepts and definitions, our understanding of ourselves is often easiest to comprehend when juxtaposed against something or someone else. In our searches to define ourselves, we open the door to—in fact, we necessitate—understanding those whose lives appear in any way different from our own as “other,” regardless of our intention.

George Floyd’s murder, along with those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others before them, is the result of decades and centuries of that most insidious form of othering—racism. In the U.S., this history began with the violent displacement of indigenous peoples, followed by the exploitation and abuse of Black people, families, and communities, from which the foundation of this country was established. It is what has led to a moment when a pandemic can create an impact shown to be so disproportionately devastating within our communities of color. It is what has led to a moment in which a man out for a jog can be shot to death, or a moment when a law enforcement officer can feel justified in shooting an unarmed woman in bed in her own home, or kneeling on a man’s neck and stealing his breath.

Racism and hate, as this community should recognize, know, and practice, is the opposite of yoga. It is the opposite of everything that we know yoga to teach us. Ending this kind of hatred, at its core, is yogic work.

Yoga Alliance and the Yoga Alliance Foundation are committed to this work, as I am personally. Our plans are constantly evolving as we deepen our learning, and they are imperfect—we do not have a neatly packaged plan to roll out here, and we will likely make mistakes along the way. In fact, I have already made some—we should have issued this statement many days, if not years, ago. We made the mistake of focusing on finding the right words—but prioritizing taking the kind of time necessary to find the “right” words in this moment is a privilege, when what the community needs is words of solidarity and action instead of words of poetry. I recognize this, and I am committed to doing the work and leading our organization into more explicit supportive action in the days, weeks, and years ahead.

Yoga Alliance and the Yoga Alliance Foundation will keep showing up, imperfectly, including in this moment. This will be uncomfortable—for us, certainly, and perhaps for you. But it is in this discomfort where our yoga community, especially those of us who are white, can be part of the essential work to deconstruct systems of oppression and the stains of racism. This is our duty. This is our responsibility. This is our dharma.

I believe this community can take on this challenge with bravery and courage—welcoming and working through discomfort to greater understanding and growth, as that is familiar to those of us who return to our mats every day. We invite you to join us.

 

In service,

Shannon Roche
President & CEO
Yoga Alliance | Yoga Alliance Foundation

 

Correction, June 3, 2020: An earlier version of this letter incorrectly referenced a law enforcement officer shooting a woman watching television in her own home. That describes Atatiana Jefferson’s murder, not Breonna Taylor’s. Learn more about Atatiana Jefferson here. That error has been corrected. Thank you to those who flagged it for our attention.

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